A Million-Plus Jobs Lost Because We Did Not Buy American

I wonder how many of the million-plus people recently laid off in the collapse of the American economy drive American cars? Wear American-made clothes or shoes? Cook on American-made stoves? Do the laundry in American-made washers and driers? Precious few, I’ll bet.

cartoonEverybody blames George Bush for the bad times – and I am all for that. I think we should blame Bush if Hurricane Paloma comes ashore in Florida. If he isn’t to blame for Paloma, he is to blame for something else we don’t know about yet, so by all means pile on the guy. As they say in Jamaica, beat an ol’ pot and scrape an ol’ grater behind him when he leaves the White House. But just for the record, this economic tsunami is as much our fault as his.

Bush and his free-market fanatics opened the door to foreign manufactured goods, but we didn’t have to welcome them so enthusiastically. I know you probably don’t work for an auto manufacturer or a shoe factory, so what’s it to you if Americans don’t buy the cars and shoes made in America?

Here what it is to you:

1 – You – and millions of others- buy a foreign car.

2 – The American car makers lose money and lay off workers.

3 – Those workers no longer have money to buy the product or service your employer produces.

4 – Your employer loses money and lays you off.

That goes for shoes, clothes, stoves and washers and driers, too.

It took a while for the chickens to come home to roost after our manufacturing went overseas because someone in America (no, it wasn’t Al Gore) invented the Internet and we led the world in information technology. So we had something to sell the world in exchange for all those Chinese products we buy at Wal-Mart and elsewhere. But the technology companies soon started outsourcing jobs and now many of the benefits of the technological revolution are going to places like India.

For a while our economy chugged along on consumer spending, and we had a roaring services sector. But in economics that is known as “taking in each other’s washing,” and it is not a sustainable process.  When the looters trashed the financial system recently, consumer spending tanked, and there was no economic engine to fall back on.

Granted, the bursting housing bubble triggered the financial implosion. In the deregulated Bush economy, builders, developers and speculators ran amok. The result was far too many houses on the market at prices few people could afford. Add crooked mortgage lenders and mathematically challenged home buyers to the mix (with encouragement from all levels of government and both political parties) and disaster was inevitable. But the financial dominoes would not have toppled so readily if the fundamentals of the economy were sound.

chryslerAnd why were those fundamentals not sound? Because we had basically stopped making things. Every economy must have a base – production of food or durable goods (stoves, washers and driers – and cars, for example). We used to feed the world. For complex reasons we now import as much or more food than we export (despite the health risks involved!). We used to make cars that people overseas coveted (like the 1961 Chrysler 300 G above). Also for complex reasons, nobody buys our cars much any more – at home or abroad.

You might say American manufacturers are the ones to blame. After all, if they made better products and sold them at a fair price, everybody would buy them. But when a manufacturer’s sales dry up, there is no money for research and development, and the manufacturer’s product becomes obsolete. So the first domino to fall was toppled by the American shopper’s early preference for foreign-made goods. We did not “Buy American” or “look for the union label.” We gobbled up bargain imports without giving their country of origin a thought. So we had our little dance, and now we must pay the piper.

Think of it this way: If shoppers had been prepared to spend an extra few dollars for that made-in-America pair of shoes a couple of decades ago, they might not be out of a job today. I bet you weren’t thinking of that when you bought that Honda back in the Seventies. Or when you shop at Wal-Mart because the prices there are a little better than at the local store.

gwgraeme

I am a Jamaican-born writer who has lived and worked in Canada and the United States. I live in Lakeland, Florida with my wife, Sandra, our three cats and two dogs. I like to play golf and enjoy our garden, even though it's a lot of work. Since retiring from newspaper reporting I've written a few books. I also write a monthly column for Jamaicans.com

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